‘Warrior’ Castletown, the darling of a nation, dies at 31

Castletown: He "meant so much to so many people", says trainer Trent Busuttin, whose father Paddy trained him. Photo: Peter Rubery/Race Images

One of New Zealand’s finest and best-loved racehorses of modern times, Castletown, has died, aged 31. Trained by Paddy Busuttin, he won 16 of his 103 races, among them six at G1 level and most famously three Wellington Cups at Trentham. He also produced a particularly memorable performance when he won from a seemingly impossible position, in the 1992 Caulfield Stakes at Randwick in Australia.

He retired to the Cambridge property of Mark and Carlene Jones and shared a paddock with Auckland and Wellington Cups-placed Ebony Honor.

"He certainly had a very good retirement. He was spoilt and was in very good condition, even at 31. He had a shampoo yesterday morning before he was put back into his paddock and had a heart attack that afternoon," said Victorian-based trainer Trent Busuttin, Paddy's son.

"He was a horse that meant so much to so many people and especially to me. He was Dad's pin-up horse and the horse that gave me the racing bug, following him around in the big races."

A two-time winner as a 2-year-old, Castletown was placed in the G1 2000 Guineas (1600m) at three before going on to claim the G1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie.

While he didn't win again at three, he was twice placed in G1 weight-for-age races in New Zealand and finished fourth in the Canterbury Guineas, Rosehill Guineas and Australian Derby and third in the Queensland Guineas and Queensland Derby, chasing home another Hall of Fame galloper, Rough Habit, in the latter Eagle Farm feature.

At four, he won the first of his three G1 Wellington Cups (3200m), preceding that win with his first of three straight wins in the G3 Trentham Stakes (2400m).

As well as adding two more Wellington Cups, Castletown won the G1 Auckland Cup (3200m) and the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) at elite level and placed in the Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand Cups. He won 13 races over 3200m (two miles).

"He was an iron horse, so tough and so genuine. Obviously his most memorable win was his third Wellington Cup [in 1994 as an 8-year-old] because by then he was an older horse and past his peak but he was just such a warrior," Busuttin said.

"When he won his Auckland Cup, there was a tearaway leader and that was a spectacular performance to win, and his Caulfield Stakes, that was run on a bottomless track and he was tailed off by 20 lengths behind the second last horse with 1000m to go. [Jockey] Noel Harris said he was going so badly, he was going to pull him up and he ended up coming down the outside and winning the race.

"Some of his best runs were in the big Cups in Australia. He was third in the Melbourne Cup carrying 57kg behind Subzero and Veandercross, giving both three kilos, and he was second in the Sydney Cup giving Just A Dancer four kilos, then came back the next year and ran third under 59½. He was a great horse."

By One Pound Sterling out of the Levmoss mare Mona Curragh, Castletown was bred by Barney McCahill, who raced him with Paddy Busuttin and Kevin Morris. Noel Harris rode Castletown for the vast majority of his career.

  • The Wellington Cup lost its G1 status in 2009, when it was reduced from 3200m to 2400m.
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